Addressing the Adverse Impact of Climate Change on Human Rights – Remarks at the 48th UN Human Rights Council

Check Against Delivery


EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council – Side Event

“Addressing the adverse impact of Climate Change on the full and effective enjoyment of Human Rights”

13h30 – 15h00, 15 September 2021



Madam Moderator,

On behalf of the European Union, I want to thank the Marshall Islands for organising this very timely event and for the invitation to join this distinguished panel. Today’s panel discussion is an important contribution to the work done by the Human Rights Council to raise international awareness and understanding of the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.

There is no doubt that we are in the middle of an unprecedented environmental crisis with climate change affecting every region across the globe. Climate change represents, in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, an ‘existential threat’ to humanity.

In Europe, we have witnessed devastating floods in several countries including Belgium and Germany. Wildfires have ravaged the Mediterranean region, in Greece, Italy and elsewhere. Outside of Europe, Madagascar is suffering one of its worst droughts in 40 years, earlier this year flash floods and landslides devastated Indonesia and Timor-Leste, wildfires scorched Algeria, and the list goes on.

Last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was just summarised by Dr. Flato, was unequivocal in its assertion that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land with widespread changes occurring as a result. This has serious implications for human rights.

Climate change and environmental degradation have and will continue to have an adverse impact on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to life, health, safe drinking water and sanitation, food, adequate housing and standard of living, if not addressed.


EU Action

The European Union recognises this, and has made climate change a central element in its external policy including through climate diplomacy – by working with our global partners at the bilateral level and multilateral level, including the United Nations and its Framework Convention on Climate Change. Also through climate finance – by providing financial support for climate action in developing countries.

In fact, 30% of the total expenditure from the multiannual financial framework 2021 – 2027 and Next Generation EU will target climate related projects. While a quarter of EU development assistance funds, will be set aside to step up efforts on climate change.

The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020 – 2024, which was unanimously adopted by our 27 Member States at the end of last year, firmly establishes the EU’s commitment to addressing the impact of environmental degradation and climate change on human rights.

We know that environmental challenges exacerbate existing inequalities and discrimination within and between nations and generations.

So, one of the priority actions of the new Action Plan is to support measures to address the risk of environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and water scarcity on the exercise of human rights.

Among other things, the EU will strengthen the link between human rights and the environment and raise awareness of the human rights impact of environmental degradation and climate change; will support the role of public authorities in adopting and ensuring compliance with environmental regulations aimed at securing a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and will facilitate universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation.


Human Rights Defenders

The impact of climate change on human rights has a knock on effect on the people who work on human rights. I want to talk about environmental human rights defenders in particular, because in 2020 at least 331 Human Rights Defenders were killed, with 69% of those killed working on land, indigenous and environmental rights. These are the people who are working on the ground, on the frontline, where the damage is being done to both the environment and human rights.

Human rights defenders, women human rights defenders in particular, are at the heart of that inseparable relationship between the protection of the planet and the protection of human rights.

There is already a growing backlash against women’s rights the world over, as well as increased violence against women human rights defenders. They are especially at risk of sexual and gender based violence, they suffer threats and are stigmatised, not just because they protect and defend the rights of others, but because they are women protecting and defending the rights of others.

We have seen that this is further compounded when women defend environmental, land or indigenous people’s rights. According to reports, defenders working on these rights are nearly three times more likely to be assaulted than other human rights defenders.

The European Union has committed through the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy and the EU Gender Action Plan, to a range of specific measures to support and protect human rights defenders and in particular, women defenders and environmental defenders.

Our Delegations and Member States Embassies all over the world are active on a daily basis to protect human rights defenders through prison visits, trial monitoring and meetings with defenders at risk, among many other actions.

Since its launch in 2015, our main financial instrument supporting human rights defenders, which is called, has supported almost 12,000 land and environmental rights and indigenous rights’ defenders, representing the main group supported by the mechanism. More than half of these were women.

Why is this important?

Because human rights defenders are drivers of change who sound warnings before violations of abuse of human rights actually occur, and women environmental human rights defenders are critical for ensuring justice, peace and equality.



In conclusion, I want to respond to the comments of President Nasheed.

And I want to recall that during the 47th session of the Human Rights Council in June, the EU stated that ‘integrating human rights into our actions implies higher levels of ambition from all of us. It is only by doing so that we’ll be able to fulfil our responsibilities toward our planet, present and future generations’.

To fulfil our responsibilities towards the planet, and towards present and future generations, means that it is now appropriate and timely to support calls for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights.

I would like to thank President Nasheed for his earlier acknowledgement of the EU’s support for this proposal.

There is no alternative to stepping up our level of ambition, because failure is not an option.

Thank you.